Life is enriched and shaped by many circumstances and nuances. People experience conflicts, both internal and external, and learn to cope with different situations. People go through adversity and prosperity, success and failure. These fluctuations largely characterize a person, but specifically through the utilization of emotions. Expressing emotions is not only an intrinsic part of the human nature, but is important for a person in numerous ways. Acknowledging, actively experiencing, and healthily releasing emotions is vital to one’s decision-making, communication with others, and well-being on both the physical and psychological levels.

One of the most important reasons for being aware of and healthily using emotions is that it is vital in decision making. A theory in neuroscience known as the Somatic Marker Hypothesis states that the role of emotions in decision making is based extensively in the biology of the brain. When one needs to make complex decisions in which cognitive reasoning isn’t enough, somatic markers, which are associations between reinforcing stimuli in the ventromedial prefrontal cortex that induce a connected physiological affective state, help guide the decision-making process. This is because when one thinks about the consequences of his or her decisions, the reward and punishment centers in the brain are activated (Damasio 4). Emotions are one’s subjective way of viewing the world, and these subjective attitudes help a person make decisions based on what he or she feels is right, using intuition. Acknowledging all kinds of emotions and healthily expressing them is crucial, because if they are expressed in an unhealthy way or if they are disregarded, a person may make harmful decisions more readily. Anxiety, for example, is sometimes an important driving force in taking precautions. The adrenaline rush, caused by the neurotransmitter norepinephrine, that one feels when one is driving too fast will cause him or her to slow down, which is a protection from a crash and likely injury (Wehrenberg 77). By the same token, the fear someone may have about getting sunburned will presumably cause that person to put on suntan lotion, which will shield the skin from physical harm. However, it is important for people to not let certain emotional responses steer their decisions away from their true intentions, so it is important to channel the emotions in the right way. Thus, anger can be viewed in a positive way in that one can express it by proactively trying to solve the problem that is making him or her angry (APA 1). According to Kevin N. Ochsner and Lisa Feldman Barrett, “Our bottom-up emotional responses are not always appropriate for every situation, and effective emotion regulation involves both the active modification of these prepotent responses, as well as the active use of emotional responses to guide judgment and decision-making” (Neuroscience of Emotion 4). Using emotions in the decision-making process is fundamental to making worthwhile and personally relevant decisions.

Utilizing one’s emotions in a healthy and productive way is very beneficial in communication. In one study done using an fMRI, participants were given short written sentences conveying real life situations. They were asked to imagine how they would feel in those situations, as well as how their mothers would feel in them. The fMRIs showed activation in the frontopolar cortex, the ventromedial prefrontal cortex, the medial prefrontal cortex, and the right inferior parietal lobule of the participants, areas that are involved in the processes of perspective-taking and relating to others (Decety 55). Therefore, people who feel deeply can empathize more easily with others, consequently connecting with them that way (Decety 55).

Emotions draw people closer in their relationships; emotions are something people have in common. Channeling emotions appropriately contributes to positive interaction. Although negative emotions like anger are legitimate and acceptable to feel, controlling the expression of such emotions in the presence of people helps relationships to run more smoothly. According to Jean Decety, “It has been demonstrated that individuals who can regulate their emotions are more likely to experience empathy and to act in morally desirable ways with others” (Decety 57). Knowledge of how to behave around different types of people with respect to the emotions expressed around them is an aid in maintaining the appropriate relationship with each person. For example, excitement and happiness about one’s endeavors are most fitting to be conveyed to close friends, as opposed to mere acquaintances. Therefore, being emotionally receptive can contribute to a person’s empathy towards others, which is essential for understanding and connecting with others.

Healthily releasing and experiencing emotion is very important for one’s physical and emotional well-being.  Finding a healthy way to release emotion is beneficial to a person, while unhealthy ways of dealing with emotion, such as drugs and alcohol, are physically harmful. It is accordingly imperative upon one to find a healthy outlet to deal with his or her feelings, such as writing in a journal or talking to somebody about their feelings. Alcohol is an especially deleterious way to deal with negative feelings because not only can it lead to long-term consequences for the development of the brain, but it chemically removes perception of emotion so that a person can’t experience the emotion and can’t make healthy decisions based on this emotion. Several recent scientific studies correlate stress with atrophy of a section of the brain called the hippocampus, which is required for memory and cognition. Prolonged exposure to stress affects this area of the brain detrimentally, by secreting glucocorticoids, a specific type of steroid hormone, in abnormally high amounts (Sapolsky 1). Due to this, prolonged and chronic stress can weaken the immune system and cause fatigue and other illness. Emotions also contribute to psychological health. Acknowledging and experiencing negative emotion, as opposed to denying it, helps one to move forward and live fully. For this reason, contrary to the fad of “positive thinking” in pop psychology, constant optimism can be detrimental to a person. According to a study made by University of Pennsylvania psychologist Martin E. P. Seligman and Brandeis University psychologist Derek Isaacowitz, “pessimists were less prone to depression than were optimists after experiencing negative life events” (Lilienfeld 65). This is because pessimists are more likely to acknowledge and feel their sadness than are optimists, and therefore can move on more easily from these difficult experiences. Resilience is not defined by being happy at all costs, but rather by experiencing necessary feelings in their due time and bouncing back. This is the essence of experiencing emotion; each emotion is legitimate and should be experienced appropriately when necessary- and different combinations of emotions and their expression are what add a distinct flavor to each person. Emotions lead to self-awareness and uniqueness of the individual. One of the contributing factors to emotional responses is semantic memory, a form of long-term memory associated with meanings, ideas and concepts.  People have different semantic knowledge from one another because they have and had different experiences, and these differences in semantic knowledge contribute to the emotions that people tend to experience and ways in which they cope with these emotions (Ochsner 17). Furthermore, deeply feeling towards something shows a care and dedication to it. Therefore, emotions are a sincere way of showing love and appreciation towards people and towards other enterprises that a person is committed to. After all, if a person didn’t feel such a connection to whatever enterprise or person that may be, they wouldn’t take issues in relation to them so personally that they would feel strong emotions about them. Every person is prone to different emotional reactions and has predispositions to certain emotions over other emotions. Consciousness of which emotions one is susceptible to allows for greater predictability in how a person will act in contact with different triggers. It is these emotional differences, and varying methods of expressing them relative to the person’s preferences, that make each individual unique.

Emotions affect nearly every aspect of a person, from physical health to reasoning to social interaction. As we can deduce from Figure 1, when one experiences an emotion, the body responds in ways such as increasing blood pressure and heart rate, while the person has the choice of whether to express the emotion in a healthy or unhealthy way; and at the same time these emotions are effecting some decision to be made at that very moment and consequently defining who the person is (Kuhn 1). Therefore, to fully live life, one needs to be aware of his or her emotions and use them in a way that not only benefits him or her psychologically, but also helps him or her to make decisions and characterizes him or her as a person. Emotions show what a person is dedicated to, and the expression of them contributes enormously to a person’s mental health as well as physical health. Emotions guide a person, but at the same time the person guides his or her emotions. Every page of life is a new adventure, but it is our emotions that paint this adventure in the colors of our souls.

 

WORKS CITED

 

1. Damasio, Antonio R. “The Somatic Marker Hypothesis and the Possible Functions of the  Prefrontal Cortex.” Department of Neurology: Division of Behavioral Neurology and Cognitive Neuroscience, University of Iowa College of Medicine (n.d.): 1-8. Web. 10 June 2012.

 

2. Wehrenberg, Margaret. The 10 Best-Ever Anxiety Management Techniques. 1st ed. New York: W.W. Norton and Company, 2008.

 

3. “Controlling Anger — Before It Controls You.” American Psychological Association, APA, n.d. Web. 10 June 2012.

 

4. Decety, Jean, and Philip Jackson. “A Social-Neuroscience Perspective on Empathy. Current Directions in Psychological Science.” University of Iowa (n.d.):  1-5. Web. 10 June 2012.

 

5. Sapolsky, Robert M. “Why Stress Is Bad for Your Brain.” Science- From AAS. American Association for the Advancement of Science (n.d.): 1. Web. 10 June 2012.

 

6. Lilienfeld, Scott O., and Hal Arkowitz. “Can Positive Thinking Be Negative?” Scientific American: Mind May/June 2011: 64-65. Print.

 

7. “Mind Map.” Map. Filmic Texts and the Rise of the Fifth Estate. International Journal of Learning and Media. 06 June 2012. Web. 10 June 2012.

 

8. Ochsner, Kevin N., and Lisa Feldman Barrett. “A Multiprocess Perspective on the Neuroscience of Emotion.” NEUROSCIENCE OF EMOTION; Stanford University (n.d.): 1-68. Web. 10 June 2012.